Posts tagged with "White House"

‘There’s nothing routine about this’: Barr moves to send Mueller’s report to Trump

March 29, 2019

More than three in four Americans (77%), including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, think that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report should be released to the public, based on findings of a survey conducted by CBS News and released on March 28.

However, after summarizing the 300-plus-page report in fewer than 1,000 words and coming to his own conclusion on obstruction of justice charges, Attorney General William Barr now has said he intends to hand the document over to the president—instead of to Congress and the American public.

Indeed, according to a story by Business Insider, Barr is taking the peculiar and unheard of step of giving precedence to the sitting president to review and redact a document summarizing an investigation into his own administration’s culpability in Russian interference into the U.S. elections and obstruction of justice.

Typically, the news outlet notes, when the government obtains information that can be protected under presidential privilege claims, it sets up a separate filter team to separate out that information before prosecutors see it. Justice Department veterans said they were surprised Barr chose to forego that option and send the report directly to the White House.

Over a dozen current and former White House officials have given testimony and turned over documents to Mueller, and legal scholars say President Donald Trump’s team could theoretically assert executive privilege over all that information.

The dilemma could put Barr in a difficult position, one former federal prosecutor pointed out to the news outlet: “Say Barr sends this report to the White House and tells them to pull out anything they think is privileged. What if the White House sent back one-third of the report and redacted the rest? What does Barr do with that? Does he just accept it and only release the parts that weren’t redacted, or if he feels like the White House is wrong or abusing their power, does he challenge them?”

“There’s nothing routine about this,” Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who worked at the Justice Department when Barr was acting attorney general in the 1990s, told Business Insider. “There’s nowhere to look for a precedent to what Barr’s planning on doing here, because there’s never been a report issued under the special counsel statute Mueller’s operating under.”

“I’m not sure why Barr felt this was the appropriate way to go about handling potentially privileged information,” Cotter said, adding, “You shouldn’t be able to use it in a way that gives you an unfair advantage,” Cotter said.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Say what? Embassy staffers gripe Jared Kushner concealed the content of Saudi meetings

March 8, 2019

During meetings with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and King Salman in Saudi Arabia on February 26, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner followed the same game plan used by his father-in-law, President Donald Trump, during the Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last July: What Americans don’t know can’t hurt you.

President Trump famously allowed no U.S. aides in the room when he talked to Putin, did not allow the translator to take notes, and would not release a transcript following the summit meeting.

 Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of  Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court in late February, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip, The Daily Beast reported, noting that his lack of transparency is causing concern not only in the embassy, but also among members of Congress.

The Royal Court was handling the entire schedule,” one congressional source told the news outlet; noting that the U.S. Embassy was not involved.

Lawmakers told the news outlet they were concerned that the embassy in Riyadh did not have knowledge of what was discussed between Kushner, MBS and King Salman—in light of the increasingly fragile relationship between the two countries following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Lawmakers are particularly interested in understanding the back and forth between the United States and Saudi Arabia regarding a potential nuclear deal, The Daily beast reported. Indeed, the website reported last week that the Trump administration is still actively working to make a deal to send U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia and that American energy businesses are still hoping to cash in on Riyadh’s push for energy diversification.

The only facts released to date on Kushner’s travels are that he stopped in Saudi Arabia and, while there, he met with the royal family to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and economic investment in the region, according to the White House.

The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh, The Daily Beast said.

When a member of the administration travels to another country, the embassy often helps coordinate the trip and provides some kind of security. This time, though, the Saudi government provided security for Kushner and his entourage, sources told The Daily Beast And the embassy was largely left in the dark on the details of Kushner’s schedule and his conversations with Saudi officials, according to two individuals with knowledge of the trip to the country.

The State Department referred The Daily Beast to the White House for comment. “This reporting is not true and the sources are misinformed,” a senior administration official told the news outlet, adding that the embassy in Riyadh was involved in Kushner’s visit and meetings.

Research contact: Erin.Banco@thedailybeast.com

Secrets and lies: Why were we misled about Jared Kushner’s security clearance?

March 4, 2019

As Rudy Giuiliani would say, “The truth isn’t the truth.” And that statement, made last August by President Donald Trump’s attorney, now seems especially relevant to the messages spun by the White House about how the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, got his top -security clearance

After denying it for months, President Trump finally has admitted that he ordered aides to put through a top-security clearance for Kushner. This presents no problem; it is the president’s prerogative to do so. But why the secrecy and lies?

Let’s go back to the beginning.

According to a report by ProPublica, nearly 18 months into the new administration, Kushner’s F.B.I. background check still had not been “completed.”

Kushner had gone back to make at least 40 changes to the disclosure report that he had filed with the Office of Government and Ethics to obtain his security clearance—and had formally submitted the form at least three times in total.

Yet, Intelligence officials and Executive Office personnel staff were digging in their heels and refusing to move forward to grant Kushner the high-security clearance he needed to access sensitive White House information.

He effectively was stuck in a holding pattern, unable to move forward due to family and business connections—and unwilling to back off from his high-profile White House position.

And in fact, Kushner never would have received his clearance, if he had stuck to the “standard process,” as both the president and ‘First Daughter’ Ivanka have claimed he did.

“I was never involved with the security” clearances for Jared Kushner, the president told two reporters from The New York Times for a February 1 report, adding, “I know that there [were] issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.”

Daughter Ivanka said in a February 8 interview with ABC-TV’s The View, “There were anonymous leaks about there being issues, but the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero.”

At that juncture, however, only one person could have—or would have—ended the standoff.

While the White House’s personnel security office is tasked with granting security clearances, if there is a dispute about how to move forward, the White House counsel makes the decision. However, in highly unusual cases, the president can weigh in and grant one, himself.

And that’s exactly what happened, the Times reported last week. Action only was taken to elevate the security clearance after Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, repeatedly had complained in person to the president—and Donald Trump had opted to take action himself.

In May, the president stepped in to direct his then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to overrule concerns and “fix the problem,” according to a person familiar with Kelly’s account who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity.

With great reluctance, Kelly moved forward, enabling Carl Kline, director of the Personnel Security Office in the Executive Office to overrule security experts and approve a top-security clearance for Kushner.

However, Kelly took precautions: In the scenario described by the news outlet, “… Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been ‘ordered’ to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.

In addition, the White House counsel at the time, Donald McGahn, wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Kushner—including by the C.I.A—and how he had recommended that Kushner not be given a top-secret clearance.

Six months later, and for no clear reason, the entire process still is cloaked in secrecy.

An attorney for McGahn declined to comment. The former chief of staff, who left the administration at the beginning of this year, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to weigh in on February 28, instead saying: “We don’t comment on security clearances.”

Finally, as Fox News reported when the news of the president’s intervention hit, “A spokesman for White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner’s attorney told Fox News [on February 28] that President Trump’s son-in-law received a top-secret security clearance through ‘the regular process with no pressure from anyone.’”

Research contact @nytimes

The body politic: Decoding the Trumps’ demeanor in their official holiday photo

December 20, 2018

Say what? On December 15 the president and first lady stood proudly side-by-side—and even holding hands–for their impeccable, official 2018 White House Christmas portrait, which was snapped by FLOTUS’s photographer Andrea Hanks, InStyle magazine reports. But what is their body language really telling us?

InStyle asked body language expert Patti Wood for her opinion—and she pointed out that the photo exposed some truths about the first couple’s relationship.

“If you look at that photo and don’t move in on it tightly at all, you can feel the tension in it,” Wood explained to InStyle. “There’s so many things that [can] show affection, care, a desire to merge—[but] that aren’t present.”

One thing that the expert finds “quite striking,” according to the report, is how straight up and down each of them is. They’re not leaning towards each other, or curled or curved toward each other, which would be standard in a couple’s  photo, to show relationship and attachment or endearment.

Instead, Wood believes, Melania’s posture betrayed anxiety. “Her feet are very tight together, facing out. Some people say that’s to look feminine, but the feminine posture is actually that foot-ankle pose, what I call the model pose, with one foot in front of the other,” the body language expert noted. “That used to be her standard pose in pictures. Here, she’s not doing the posture that would be more flattering—instead, she has the feet together, and that’s protective.”

That posture is evident in all of her limbs: “The whole curve of the inner arm, and her left hand in a loose fist—just the closeness together of limbs and the tightness in the hand—all indicate tension and fear,” Wood told the magazine.

And neither spouse’s smile looks natural to the pro. “What is interesting,” she says, “is that her baseline many times when she’s photographed with him, is to have the mouth closed in more of a thin line, especially when she’s caught spontaneously with him. You see her mouth closed and the lips tight together. Here you actually do see that they’re both smiling, but they’re tight, the lips are pulled back in a tight grin—a tight, forced grin.”

She elaborates, “One of the ways you can tell [it’s forced] is the way you feel when you look at their smiles. You actually feel the tension in your body when you look at their smiles—it’s more of a grin than a smile.”

What’s more, although the POTUS and FLOTUS are holding hands—an unusual move for the couple, Woods interprets the pose as “a loose handhold. “If you look at her hand,” the expert tells InStyle, “it is bent around his and slightly lifting his up. But you can see where he’s not fully joining in by the way that his thumb is awkwardly out. It’s very odd. If you look at it closely, you see that the thumb is straight and pointing at him as opposed to resting or curling around her, and doing what would be normal to show a return of affection.”

Finally, the body language professional admits, “It’s so funny because this was the [photo] they chose to publish …. This is the one that they were happy about showing to the world. It’s surprising the photographer didn’t say, “Why don’t you put your arm around her?  Why don’t you hold his hand a little bit tighter?” So this must’ve been the best of them.”

Research contact: @HereReedThis

Flynn sentencing delayed following combative hearing

December 19, 2018

The former (and fleetingly ensconced) national security adviser for the Trump administration, Michael Flynn, is not off the hook yet.

Flynn—who admitted lying to the FBI in January 2017 about a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which he promised to relax U.S. sanctions; and who served as a foreign agent for Turkey concurrently with his day job at the White House—was scheduled to be sentenced on December 18 by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

However, the sentencing for crimes investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team was postponed, Politico reported, after Judge Sullivan suggested that all sides wait until Flynn had finished cooperating with the Russia probe.

The surprise outcome came after an uncommonly combative hearing, during which Sullivan repeatedly admonished Flynn, telling him, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”

The court had been expected to go easy on Flynn, after sentencing guidelines by the Mueller team noted that his “history and characteristics,” along with his contributions to the investigation, presented “mitigating” circumstances. “The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” the document said.

“All along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States,” Sullivan said at Tuesday’s hearing. “Arguably, that undermines everything that flag over here stands for.”

According to Politico, after about an hour of back and forth with Flynn and his lawyers, as well as Mueller’s team, Sullivan called an abrupt recess to give Flynn and his lawyers more time to reconsider whether they wanted to proceed with the sentencing, indicating he was not always comfortable sentencing those who are still cooperating with authorities.

Sullivan also noted that he was not obliged to follow Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn get little or no prison time for pleading guilty.

“This is a very serious offense,” said Sullivan, who noted Flynn’s crime involved a high-ranking official of the government making false statements to the FBI “while on the physical premise of the White House.”

After the recess, the news outlet said, Flynn attorney Robert Kelner said they would accept Sullivan’s offer to postpone sentencing so they can “eek” out every drop of cooperation benefit. “We do not take it as a wink-wink, nod-nod,” Kelner said.

“I’m not promising anything,” Sullivan replied.

For his part, Politico said, Flynn initially had said he didn’t want to take Sullivan up on his offer to postpone his sentencing hearing. “I appreciate that, but no your honor,” the former Trump official said.

After running through some housekeeping issues related to the Flynn case, including setting the March 13 date for the next status conference, Sullivan adjourned the hearing with a “happy holidays.”

Research contact: @dsamuelsohn

Behind Barr: Trump announces choice for attorney general

December 10, 2018

During a week when former President George H.W. Bush’s legacy has been validated and his choices lauded, President Donald Trump confirmed that he will nominate former Attorney General William P. Barr—who served in same role in the Bush administration from 1991 to 1993— to lead the Justice Department again, telling reporters on December 7 that Barr was “my first choice since day one.”

Barr is, perhaps, best known for successfully urging the elder Bush in 2001 to pardon a number of key figures involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He also has been critical of the Mueller investigation—perhaps explaining why Trump is so enamored of this candidate.

According to a December 7 report by The Washington Post, “Barr is likely to face tough questions at his confirmation hearing about how he will handle the ongoing special counsel investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.”

Assuming that the nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Barr would replace Acting AG Matthew Whittaker, whom Trump elevated to that role after requesting the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions early in November.

That move—which leapfrogged the DOJ professional who actually was next in line for the job, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—has been widely criticized on the grounds that Whittaker is not qualified; is under investigation, himself; and has said that the president “made the right call” when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

In another round of musical chairs in the administration, Chief of Staff John Kelly was reportedly expected to resign on Friday night, December 7. Kelly had worn out his welcome with the POTUS, who stopped talking to him in recent days in hopes that we would take the hint and depart the White House.

Finally, Trump also has said, according to The Washington Post, that he will nominate Heather Nauert to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, describing the State Department spokesperson, a relative novice on foreign policy, as “very talented, very smart, very quick.” Haley announced her pending resignation in October.

Research contact: matt.zapotosky@washpost.com

Three more administration officials head toward Trump’s losers’ circle

November 15, 2018

Insiders at the White House might be humming Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” as—just a week after requesting the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—the president prepares once again to reconfigure his cabinet and West Wing staff.

First on the list of goners is almost certainly Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security. She has long been a target of Trump’s tirades, three people close to the president told The New York Times for a November 13 report. Indeed, the POTUS had floated the idea of dismissing Nielsen ahead of his trip to Paris for World War I commemoration ceremonies.

And if Nielsen goes, one of her strong supporters may be ousted, too. Internally at the White House, the Times said, removing Nielsen is perceived as a way for President Trump to push out White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, without directly firing him.

Although, the news outlet said, Trump and Kelly supposedly arrived at a plan earlier this year for the chief of staff to stay through the 2020 election, the POTUS privately has hinted that he would not bet on Kelly remaining in his job that long.

Kelly’s likely successor already is in the queue: Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, long has been seen as a prospective replacement for Kelly, if and when he makes his exit—and is favored by the president’s family members, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Trump.

Finally, another administration official who is at or near the departures gate, following a run-in with First Lady Melania Trump, is Mira Ricardel, who serves as a deputy to National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Ricardel, who previously worked at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, had disparaged two members of the East Wing staff during the FLOTUS’s trip to Africa last month, a Times source said. She also is rumored to have tangled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on issues of policy and Pentagon personnel.

The rift with Melania Trump hit the headlines this week when—in a highly unusual statement about West Wing personnel matters—a spokesperson for the first lady, Stephanie Grisham, addressed Ricardel’s status. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Grisham said.

Since the president hates interpersonal confrontation, he often delays dismissals and then delegates them to Kelly. How these next staff changes will be handled is anybody’s guess.

Research contact: @maggieNYT

Editor’s update (11/15): Mira Ricardel now has been removed from her national security job in the White House and will continue to serve the administration in another role.

White House says “get out’ to unmarried, same-sex partners of diplomats, UN staff

October 3, 2018

The Trump administration has begun denying visas to some unmarried, same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and employees of the United NationsForeign Policy reported on October 1.

In order to legally remain in the country, those who are already residents must get married by December 3, the State Department has clarified. Otherwise, they will be deported within 30 days.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. characterized the decision—which foreign diplomats fear will create major hardships for same-sex couples from countries that don’t recognize same-sex marriage—as an effort to bring its international visa practices in line with current U.S. policy, Foreign Policy noted.

In light of the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the U.S. extends diplomatic visas only to married spouses of U.S. diplomats. Since the June 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, U.S. policy has dictated that diplomatic visas be extended only to married spouses.

In July, the U.S. mission sent out diplomatic notes to the United Nations and representatives for foreign diplomatic missions explaining the new policy, which reversed a 2009 decision by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to grant visas to domestic partners of U.S. and foreign diplomats.

The contents of the diplomatic note were first reported in August by the Washington Blade.

The 2009 policy, however, did not allow a heterosexual domestic partner of a U.S. or foreign diplomat to enter the country on a diplomatic visa. “Same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses,” reads the announcement obtained by Foreign Policy. “Consistent with [State] Department policy, partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible” for a diplomatic visa.

Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN, blasted the move as “needlessly cruel and bigoted” on Friday.

“But only 12% of UN member states allow same-sex marriage,” Power noted.

Alfonso Nam, the president of UN Globe, a UN LGBT staff advocacy organization, told Foreign Policy that same-sex couples are at risk of prosecution if they return to a country that criminalizes homosexuality or has not legalized same-sex marriages.

Diplomats would be eligible for “limited exceptions” under the Trump administration’s policy if they can prove that they are from countries that outlaw same-sex partners, according to Foreign Policy.

That exception, however, reportedly does not extend to U.N. officials.

“With this change, the State Department is enforcing parity in the way they recognize opposite-sex partnerships and same-sex partnerships,” UN Globe said in a statement. “It is an unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage.”

Research contact: @columlynch

Both Kavanaugh and #MeToo accuser are willing to testify to Senate Judiciary Committee

September 18, 2018

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said on September 17 that he is willing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to address the accusations of a woman who alleges that, when they both were teenagers, he sexually assaulted her at Georgetown Preparatory School in suburban Washington.

According to a report by The Hill, Kavanaugh in a new statement called the woman’s accusation—framed in a letter given to the FBI by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California)—a “completely false allegation

“I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said. “Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.”

The federal judge said he would speak to the Judiciary panel “in any way the committee deems appropriate” in order to “defend my integrity.”

Kavanaugh was spotted by television cameras walking to the White House shortly before his statement was released, The Hill reported, noting further, “

It is the latest sign the White House is digging in as his nomination has been thrown into turmoil.”

Initially reluctant to reveal her identity, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California, went public on September 16 with her accusation, because, she said, she believed it was her “civic responsibility.”.

She told The Washington Post that she thinks the alleged incident took place in 1982, when she was a 15-year-old sophomore at an all-girls school in suburban Maryland. Kavanaugh, who attended an all-boys school, would have been 17.

At an off-campus party, she encountered Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge—whom she said had been drinking earlier and were very drunk—when she went upstairs to use the bathroom after having one beer.

She said she was pushed into a bedroom and Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed and tried to remove her clothing, while both boys laughed “maniacally.”

When she tried to scream, she told the Post, Kavanaugh held a hand over her mouth. I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she told the Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Eventually, Ford said, Judge jumped on top of them, and she managed to get free and lock herself in a bathroom. After she heard the boys “going down the stairs, hitting the walls,” she told the news outlet, she made it downstairs and out the door, but doesn’t remember how she got home.

Ford’s attorney said on September 17 that her client is also willing to testify publicly about the charges.

“She is. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth, yes,” Debra Katz, who is representing  Ford, said on NBC’s Today  show.

Despite denials from Kavanaugh and the White House, several senators have voiced concerns about moving ahead with the nomination before hearing from Ford, The Hill reported.

No polls on the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination have been released since news of the letter’s contents was reported over the weekend.

Research contact: @jordanfabian

Trump continues to ostracize Canada in trade talks

August 28, 2018

Just months after President Donald Trump said he would withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—which had progressively eliminated tariffs between the United States, Mexico, and Canada since 1994—progress has been announced toward a new deal.

According to an August 26 report by Bloomberg, the POTUS still is threatening to leave NAFTA in the dust—saying on Monday that he would create a trade accord with Mexico that would eliminate Canada from the bloc.

Such a new pact would need to be approved by Congress before it could become effective—and that is unlikely. Although Canada has not been a party to recent talks, the potential for a two-country deal appears small, given opposition by Mexico, American lawmakers and North American industries whose supply chains rely on all three countries, the news outlet reported.

Trump announced the agreement with Mexico in a hastily arranged Oval Office event on August 27, Stars and Stripes said, piggybacking on the Bloomberg report, with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto joining by conference call.

According to the military news outlet, Pena Nieto said he is “quite hopeful” Canada would soon be incorporated in the revised agreement, while Trump said that remains to be seen.

The agreement with Mexico centers on rules governing the automobile industry, resolving a big source of friction, but leaves aside other contentious issues that affect all three countries.

Early on Monday morning, Trump tweeted, “A big deal looking good with Mexico!”

America’s trade relations with Canada have deteriorated in recent months, as President Trump has repeatedly carped on the country’s trade practices and Canadian leaders have insisted they will not rush to sign a deal that does not work in their favor.

On August 24, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Canada would be “happy” to rejoin the talks once the United States and Mexico had made progress on their specific issues. “Once the bilateral issues get resolved, Canada will be joining the talks to work on both bilateral issues and our trilateral issues,” Freeland said.

Trump has continued to inject uncertainty into the NAFTA talks, believing that the strategy gives his advisers an advantage at the negotiating table, the news outlets said. He has hit Canada and Mexico with hefty tariffs on their shipments of steel and aluminum and threatened further taxes on their cars.

Research contact: @EMPosts